Chapter 3: The Die is Cast
It was at that moment that the world threw itself into chaos. The two travelers from beyond Hyrulia had arrived. And the Clawed Hand had been released again into the world. From that very moment all would be exposed to the most terrible darkness that the realms had ever known - even beyond the dark storm that had been unleashed before.
Link studied the new creature closely. No, it was no mere creature - a Hylian ... a young male Hylian!
No. Something different. For unlike a Hylian, this young man had rounded ears. His eyes were also a surprisingly piercing gray, an eye color unknown to the Kokiri. Otherwise, he seemed fairly "normal," but Link could not be sure. "Who are you?" he asked.
The boy stood up, the early evening sun reflecting off his glasses. "My name is Aaron Homden. What's yours?"
The boy named Aaron rubbed his chin. "That's a funny name."
Link smirked. "No funnier than yours. And what about your ears? Why are the tips cut off?"
Aaron didn't smile back. "I might ask why yours are so bizarrely shaped. Are you related to -" But a voice from under the bed cut him off.
"Aaron? Who are you talking to?" said the voice. A hand extended from under the bed; Aaron grabbed it and pulled out a girl about his height. Link stared for a moment. She was almost as pretty as Saria! Her brown-blonde hair tumbled to the middle of her back - and yet her beauty was marred with sweat and - was that soot? No, something else.
"My name is Ashley Morris," said the girl, extending her hand. Link told her his name and grasped her hand awkwardly, as he had never shaken hands before.
"So where are we?" asked Aaron inquisitively.
"In the Kokiri Village, which is part of the larger country of Hyrule," said Link, who had already received information on the outside world even though he was only ten.
Ashley looked unimpressed. "What is the name of your planet?" she asked.
"Planet?" said Link, who hadn't received that much information.
"The entire earth," said Aaron helpfully.
"I don't understand."
"Barbarian," muttered Ashley under her breath. "Take us to your leader!" Aaron rolled his eyes at her use of the old spacefarer's cliche.
Link's instincts kicked in. "How do I know you aren't powerful sorcerers that're going to kill all of us?"
Ashley tried to look important. "You'll just have to trust us."
Link looked at Aaron, who knew they were making a total hash of this first contact with another, very humanoid race. "All right. I'll take you to the Deku Tree. Come on!" He strode out his door and began clambering down his ladder.
"Now we're getting somewhere," murmured Ashley to Aaron as they followed Link.
When they arrived in the Deku Tree Clearing, Link announced the two visitors to the Sprout. "Uh ... Deku Tree?"
The Sprout had apparently been sleeping. "Wha - hum - " He coughed out some assorted grunting noises before addressing the newcomers. "Yes, Link? Ah - our guests are here, I see."
"Wise Deku Tree, these are some visitors from the land of ... uh ... where do you come from, anyway?" said Link.
"Where they come from is not important, Link. I do have questions for them, however." The Sprout looked at Aaron and Ashley. "A question for you, Aaron: why are you here? Why have you broken the peace within my peaceful village?"
Aaron looked nervously at Ashley, who spoke. "We wandered in from the deep woods. We got lost - separated from our parents, you know. We're truly sorry for any problems we may have created," she said smoothly.
The Deku Sprout chuckled. "Child, if you had been in the Lost Woods for that long, you would have been transformed into a mindless skeleton guarding the treasures that lie there. Be grateful that you have not suffered that fate; in any case I believe you have chosen your destiny already with your answer, Ashley."
Ashley gasped. She had not spoken her name to anyone here. How had the tree known?
The Sprout continued. "Since you are new here, I have a test for both of you. All newcomers into my village, whether they are born or whether they enter from the outside, must travel to the edge of the Forest Gate and back. It is not far; only a short walk through the village, into the entrance tunnel, and back. The tunnel itself is only fifty or so feet. You should not have any worries ... unless ... well, no matter. If you do this for me, I will explain matters in further detail. Oh, and you may only enter one at a time. Remember this!"
Ashley smirked. Obviously some sort of bizarre tribal ritual, she thought. Might as well humor the natives, huh? She took Aaron's arm and both of them sauntered off. Link started to follow, but the Sprout stopped him. "Link, we must talk of the recent taxes upon the Know-It-All Brothers and Mido's misbehavior!" Link turned and walked back, a confused look on his face.
The Sprout looked amused. "I was only joking, Link. I know you do not need education in these matters. But you must not follow them. If you did, there would be serious ... repercussions. This is a test for the two of them. And I am not sure that they will pass!"
"Gee, Ashley, this looks kinda creepy," said Aaron as he and Ashley stood at the entrance of the Forest Gate, which would lead them out to Hyrule Field.
"Don't worry," said Ashley. "I don't think that whatever's in here is going to hurt us."
Don't be so sure, thought Aaron, who had seen many monster holos. In spite of his fear he began to walk forward.
Ashley grabbed his arm. "I'll go first."
Aaron pulled out his isaliscanner and turned it on, checking the readouts it was giving. He gasped. "Ashley - the readings -" He dropped his scanner, which burst into flame and melted into a couple lumps of metal.
Ashley's eyes were wide; Aaron's eyes were wider. "Be careful, Ashley," he warned.
Ashley turned away, smiling suddenly. In spite of himself Aaron smiled back.
"I don't know what we're going to do after this weird ritual, Aaron, but ... perhaps we could spend some time together ... soon?" Ashley said, her voice turning silky-soft. Aaron smiled even more as Ashley entered the forest.
I wonder if Aaron ... nah, thought Ashley. She saw a bridge up ahead. Well, I just have to go there and back. This is really easy! She began walking, humming to herself. After a few seconds she realized she wasn't moving - at all. Whoa, that's weird. She tried walking some more. Nothing happened. She began running and looked down at her feet. Though she could feel herself running, she couldn't see her legs moving. To her eyes, they were not moving one whit.
Ashley's very logical mind began to panic. "Stop it!" she cried out to no one in particular. "This goes beyond the bounds of -"
I do not care what bounds it goes beyond and who is destroyed because of it!
Ashley fell to her knees - or did she? She couldn't tell anymore - the forest was becoming dark, and it was beginning to lean at her, like a horrible blanket of moss was covering her -
"Who are you? What do you want?" she yelled, trying to keep calm.
Do you truly wish to know? I am more terrible than the morning sun, I swamp all light with my plans and machinations!
"Tell me!" shouted Ashley, standing up - didn't she? There was a horrible rasping laugh in reply.
I am he who destroys all. I sweep aside all resistance to my Power. I seek the unifying balances of Wisdom and Courage. Oh, yes, fear me! I am Mandrag Ganon! I rule all evil in this world, and it is mine!
Ashley fell to her knees again - she thought she did - as a figure approached out of the darkness. The figure was dark, and was totally black. She fell back onto the top of a sand dune, beginning to feel terror. Her acute senses were totally useless; she did not know what was going on at all!
It was a man who strode towards her now. His stride was strong and purposeful, and she could see a sneer on his olive-green face. This was Mandrag Ganon - no! This man was something more terrible and sinister than the voice speaking to her.
The man loomed over her now. He spoke, almost soft and almost still, the stars and deep blue sky a fitting backdrop to his mass. "You are privileged, young one. You see my true form now - the form that shall be restored to me when I regain my former power. Yes, girl, see what they have taken from me to exact a cruel punishment! This is my body, and they tore it away from me! This is my dark and shadowy building that is mine to use as I will! It is glorious, is it not? Truly magnificent!" Ashley's breath came in ragged gulps as Ganon bent down to her and showed her his hand, then his arm. Ganon tore off his torso's clothing, leaving him naked from the waist up. As his muscles rippled, he began to laugh slowly.
"Heh ... heh ... heh ... this is my body, girl. This is my body." Ashley whimpered as Ganon turned away.
"The wind. Do you hear it? Do you feel it? Ah, it feels so stirring on my chest." Though Ashley could not see it, Ganon smiled.
"The wind ... it is blowing ..."
He turned back to Ashley. "You, girl ... you should feel worthy. You are the first to see me as I should be while I prepare my rule and reign over this realm!"
Ashley's eyes were wide as Ganon grabbed her and hoisted her above his head. "And you are my first captive!" The twinkling stars seemed to dim and the night seemed to grow darker as Ganon swung her around, laughter bubbling out of his mouth like water. Then he threw Ashley to the ground.
"But perhaps you will have a different fate." Ashley became conscious of another person above her. "One that is truly ... ironic." The person moved into Ashley's vision. She saw him - he had red hair and a twisted smile on his face. He carried a sword.
Ashley screamed as the sword flew towards her.
Aaron heard a scream from the tunnel. "Oh no! She's being attacked by monsters!" he yelled. Pushing his fear away, he ran into the forest gateway -
- Onto a sand dune.
The stars were twinkling merrily, contrasting with the golden sand dunes and the night sky. To his right Aaron could see a strange dark structure. To his left he saw nothing. And in front of him ...
Ganon's laughter had subsided to mere chortles of glee. However, he had started dancing and doing a jig, which was most unbecoming of the Prince of Darkness. Aaron raised his eyebrows. Is that guy crazy? ... shoot! He's got green skin! And ... he looks so terrible ...
Aaron began to walk forward, shouting, "Sir, what's going on here?"
Ganon stopped in mid-chuckle. "Ha, ha, ha - what? Who ... ah, yes. Yes, I know you. You're her friend." As Aaron got closer, the evil sorcerer pointed at a large object on the ground. Aaron bent low to it and gasped in horror - it was Ashley!
She was smiling.
Aaron recoiled in fright. "What did you do to her?" he yelled.
"Do to her? What did I do to her? Such an obvious and childish question!" exclaimed Ganon.
"I'm only ten, you know," said Aaron, "and in any case you didn't tell me."
Ganon glared. "I saved her from the terrible fate of having to live in this pathetic place! Now she will - curses, why am I even speaking to a foolish whelp? Prepare to die!"
Aaron fell to his knees, fear paralyzing him. Why do I have to die now? he thought dejectedly.
You don't have to die.
The thought came to Aaron all at once, like the sun bursting over a darkened landscape. This notion of not having to die was so logical that a silly grin crossed Aaron's face. He got back on his feet. "Sorry, but I don't want to die. Perhaps another day."
The black lightning bolt that was appearing in Ganon's hand abruptly exploded, electrocuting the evil being's body. As he was wracked with his own power, he snarled angrily. "Why? Why did he have to see through my great illusion? Why did he have to break the spell? I shall destroy him, that refractory worm, along with that snob princess and my accursed -"
"Refractory? That's a new one," said Aaron. Suddenly he felt a strange tugging on his back. Turning to look, Aaron saw it was a green mass of energy that had grabbed him. This is new too, he thought.
Just as the green light engulfed his vision, he saw Ganon's writhing body sprout a tail, then two clawed hands. His entire body began to convulse, transforming into a grotesque gray mass that looked like a cross between a pig and a lizard. Ganon turned toward Aaron and prepared to strike him with his huge talons -
Aaron found himself in front of the Deku Sprout. Saria and Link were flanking the small tree. All three looked grim. There was silence for a few moments, and then Aaron began to rage.
"What did you do to her? Who was that freak who was attacking me? Why did this happen? This is really some test, you know! Killing my friend, yeah, that was really a smart move! Now I'm marooned here on this backwater planet with no way to get back home and stuck with a bunch of pointy-eared sadists and just what is going on here?"
To Aaron's astonishment, the Deku Sprout was smiling.
"The candidate passes," murmured Saria.
"What do you mean, the candidate passes? You just murdered my friend and you're telling me I just passed some sort of test!" yelled Aaron, flinging his hands in the air.
The Sprout smiled wider. "Friend, calm yourself. Saria spoke prematurely - there is still one part left to your test."
"I stand absolutely riveted!" retorted Aaron angrily.
"Good. Now listen to me," said the Sprout. "You may feel strange during the next minute or so. Do not worry. You will not - indeed, you cannot - be harmed in any way while you are standing here. Now, concentrate on your heart - not your physical one, but your spiritual one."
Aaron complied as best he could, thinking about how mad he was and how he wanted to bring Ashley back and kill that man who had killed her, when the feeling hit.
It wasn't an evil feeling like he'd gotten from the evil man. It was a warm feeling, driving all thoughts of revenge away, helping him concentrate and focus his mind. The feeling intensified. Aaron decided he really enjoyed this feeling, but it wasn't like a narcotic or a drug; he could think very clearly, but at the moment he wasn't able to see for some odd reason - there was only a clear whiteness in his vision. It looked almost like it was coming into focus; Aaron tried to peer farther into the whiteness.
At that moment the feeling left him and he came back into reality, oddly drained of energy and feeling tired.
The Sprout, Saria, and Link were all smiling widely now.
"Very good, Aaron Homden," the Sprout said. "You have passed the test. You can be trusted, my boy - you can be trusted!"
"News to me," said Aaron grumpily. "Now will someone please tell me what's going on?"
"Yes. I will explain as far as I can, Aaron.
"You may wonder why I asked you and your departed crewmate Ashley to endure that ordeal. The answer is that all Kokiri must endure this trial at their coming-of-age, even those that leave the forest forever. I must test their integrity and fidelity. If they truly mean to honor the promises they make to me during their coming-of-age-time, they will pass the test and no harm will come to them. If they do not, then they are open to assault from every conceivable evil, including the one you saw."
"So the ones who choose not to follow you die because you will not protect them," said Aaron accusingly.
"Why should I protect those who will not protect me?" replied the Deku Sprout. "A higher law than mine is the law that I serve."
"And I suppose there have been many that have chosen to die rather than serve a corrupt slaver such as yourself."
Unperturbed, the Sprout responded. "Only one. There was one that falsely swore allegiance to me ..."
A horrifying thought burst upon Aaron's mind. "Are you saying that since Ashley failed to pass the test and is dead, she was evil?"
Saria and Link bowed their heads as the Deku Sprout's face fell. "Ashley was not evil in the purest sense. But she was selfish, and being selfish was an easy target for the man you saw.
"That man is named Mandrag Ganon, or more appropriately Ganondorf Dragmire. He is the master of all evil in our world and has already tried to destroy our world once before. He ensnared many people with his lies and fooled all of us into believing his intentions were benign. They were not. He transformed our land into a wasteland of evil. Many died. Many more were enslaved. Some were scarred for all time." Saying this, the Deku Sprout's face became very severe.
Aaron's head was bowed and he was on the ground with his head in his hands, crying tears for the people whose lives Ganon had destroyed.
"But he did not succeed. A hero arose from the forest and challenged him. Ganondorf was defeated and sealed away into a dark prison where the most foul creatures of darkness reside. It was at that time that the hero disappeared.
"And now, Aaron, our lands are threatened once again. Ganondorf has escaped his prison in a way unknown to us. But he does not have his real body yet; only a monster's ghastly form. Because of this his power is diminished and there is still a chance of defeating him. Once he regains his true body, Ganondorf will surely destroy Hyrule again. Our hopes lie with the brave band that is even now gathering to combat the Dark and prevent the storm that will annihilate all of us."
Aaron was raptly sitting now, amazed that he had stumbled into this world full of conflict. One question still gnawed at his mind, however. "What was the name of the hero?"
Saria shook her head slowly and put her finger to her lips. But a voice rang out through the Sprout's clearing: "His name was Link."
Aaron turned in shock to Link, who held a gleaming short sword in his hand and a shield with a hieroglyph inscribed upon it. "But your name is Link too!"
Link smiled. "I know."
Saria laughed aloud with joy as the Deku Tree began to chuckle in his slow, heh-heh way. Aaron didn't know why, but he smiled too. Was it possible that the boy he'd met was the hero who had defeated Ganon?
"Yes," continued Link, "I am he who destroyed evil. I am he who saved Hyrule seven years in the future, and I am the one who has been chosen as the Hero. Yes - I am the Hero of Time!"
Aaron stood amazed. "You - but - you're just a kid like me!" he gawked.
"No, Aaron. You see, I was only ten years old when I began my quest to destroy the King of Evil. I battled to take control of the Master Sword, which was the only sword that could slay Ganondorf, but when I took the Sword from its pedestal I was placed in a deep sleep for seven years. I was not mature or strong enough to wield that blade, so the Sage of Light, Rauru caused me to sleep until I was of the age of maturity, which is seventeen years old. When I awoke he charged me with the task of destroying Ganondorf. After battling through five dungeons I breached the defenses of Ganon's castle and destroyed him. But I was informed by the Sages that I had to return the sword and return to where I had started seven years earlier. I did so. What the Sages had not told me was that my memories would be 'adjusted' to prevent me remembering what had happened until the correct time, which I believe is now. Deku Tree, I request that we speak tonight. I believe that the time to leave has come!"
Saria looked shocked. "Link, what are you talking about? Leave the forest? With
"Silence, Saria," said the Deku Sprout. "Link, your request is granted, although I must confess how you have suddenly remembered all of this."
Link smiled again. "I had a dream, wise tree, and I dreamt of a beautiful princess!"
Saria looked a little nervous, but the Sprout heh-hehed. "I see, Link. Aaron, I am
sorry - it is in the nature of heroes and their friends to ramble on. Please forgive us. Link, if you will speak with Aaron tonight about your plans, I would appreciate it."
"All this joy brings tears to my eyes, but I'm still confused. What are Sages? And what's all this about time travel?" complained Aaron.
"Link will explain as you are traveling," said the Sprout.
"Traveling?" squawked Aaron. "Who said anything about traveling? I don't even know where I am!"
"You will soon," said Link.
Aaron threw up his hands in despair, resigned to the fact that he was definitely in over his head and the best thing to do was just to - as Jardi might have put it - "Lie low, go with the flow, and don't forget to make a scene once you find a large crowd."
Aaron smiled in spite of himself - and he really was spiting himself a lot lately.
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